Curious Cbus: The Stories Behind Columbus Street Names

Jun 19, 2018

As part of our Curious Cbus series, WOSU collects questions from listeners and investigates the answers. But since the project started, a lot of the questions we've received have centered around various Columbus streets and where their names came from.

From Africa to Sawmill Road and beyond, we've answered some of your street name questions and compiled an FAQ about just how these streets come around, anyways. Keep an eye on this page: We'll be updating it with more information as additional questions come in!

What's the story behind Africa Road? 

The Delaware County Historical Society recounted that an unincorporated village located on Africa Road, near the intersection of Big Walnut, was originally named "East Orange." According to Africa’s historical marker, residents with anti-slavery sentiments conflicted with the community’s pro-slavery Methodist church. Those against slavery built their own congregation, Wesleyan Methodists, but were pejoratively called “Africa.”

This led to the name change, as did the arrival of 18 freed slaves in 1859. Traveling from North Carolina by the underground railroad, the “Alston Freed Slaves” settled on Samuel Patterson’s farm in Delaware County. The historical marker notes they were employed and lived in log cabins. Later, the Alstons left Africa and lived in Westerville, as well as Van Wert and Paulding counties. 

Was there ever a cemetery on Cemetery Road in Hilliard?  

Hilliard Ohio Historical Society notes that Wesley Chapel Cemetery was founded in 1818. In 1870, a federal law passed that said public funds could be used to construct roads from towns to the local cemetery. Thus, Cemetery Road was built for easy travel to Wesley Chapel.

Until 1914, Cemetery Road used to include what is now named Dublin Road.

How did Gender Road get its name? (Asked by Dan Noonan)

According to the Franklin County Engineer's Office, roads were often established by a “road petition,” where residents would request their county to institute a road for the public. One of the petitioners for Gender Road in Canal-Winchester was a man named Jacob Gender. The road may be his namesake. 

What's the origin of Kossuth Street?

Lajos (Louis) Kossuth was a 19th century Hungarian Governor-President. He was a powerful orator and champion of democracy. After he visited the United States, streets were named after him in cities like Columbus, Ohio and Lafayette, Indiana. Kossuth Sttreet now runs through German Village.

Fifth Street South looking north from East Kossuth Street in German Village.
Credit Columbus Library

How did Mound Street get its name? (Asked by Del Sroufe) 

In the 1800s, there was a 40-foot tall, 300-foot wide, Indian mound in the middle of Mound and High Street. By 1812, when the Ohio General Assembly commissioned Joel Wright to lay out Columbus, he named the street in the south end of downtown after the ancient landmark.

As Columbus Neighborhoods reported in November 2016, this mound was one of 10,000 found in Ohio, but increasing traffic nearby led to its removal in the 1830s. “Clay from that mound was used in virtually every initial brick building in the city, including the original Statehouse,” said Ed Lentz, a Columbus historian.

How did Refugee Road get its name? 

As WOSU first reported in April 2017, the Revolutionary War was not only fought by America and Great Britain but included Canadian and Nova Scotian soldiers. Great Britain convicted those Canadian soldiers of treason, because they were fighting for the U.S., and seized their land. This left many Canadians homeless after the war ended in 1783.

In 1801, Congress decided to compensate those Canadian soldiers with territory. This resulted in the Refugee Tract, which outlined claimants and boundaries in Franklin, Fairfield, Licking and Perry counties. The tract covered over 58,000 acres, and 67 people made it their home. Refugee Road in southeast Columbus was born out of the tract and first emerged in the Columbus City directory in 1904.

Plots of land in the Refugee Tract, drawn by surveyor Elnathan Scofield, which was given by the U.S. government to Canadian allies from the Revolutionary War.
Credit Ohio History Connection

Was there ever a sawmill on Sawmill Road?  (Asked by Chris Loper, Alex Silbajoris, and David Zumbach) 

This was such a popular question, we got asked three separate times! Yes, Sawmill Road is named after a sawmill in the area just south of I-270 in Dublin.

Nobody's quite clear about where the exact location was, though, because its origin has not been heavily researched.

Who decides on the street names when new developments are created? (Asked by Jean Lewis)

For the most part, real estate, subdivision or land developers submit street names and relevant city departments review them.

Why are some streets names upper case and other lower case? (Asked by Lucas A. Gualtieri)

The Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices provides the guidelines for street name signs. Signs in all capital letters are no longer allowed. Those already in place can remain as long as they fulfill all other requirements.

Vote on our next Curious Cbus story, and ask a question of your own! WOSU may just find out the answer in a story.

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